How to Sound Like Black Sabbath: Amp Settings Guide


Black Sabbath were one of the most popular rock bands of the ’70s and many guitarists are looking to try and emulate Tony Iommi’s iconic tone. In this article, I’ll take you through this guide to help you dial in the best amp settings to sound like Black Sabbath and look at some amp settings examples for the band’s most popular songs.

Quick Guide to Black Sabbath Amp Settings

To sound like Tony Iommi in Black Sabbath, start with the following amp settings:

  • Gain: 7-8
  • Bass: 4-5
  • Mids: 5-6
  • Treble: 6-7

It’s important to note that these example settings are just to be used as a starting point. Unless you are using Iommi’s exact rig for a particular track, it’s impossible to get the tone to match completely. However, this article is designed to guide you through the process of setting up your amplifier so you can get as close as possible with your current guitar and amp.

The Basics

Before we look at some examples for specific songs, I think it’s a good idea to go through the amp settings which underpinned Black Sabbath’s overall tone. There are 3 aspects to look at here:

  • Gain
  • EQ
  • Effects

Gain

Tony Iommi used a lot of gain (or drive) to create a tone which was suited to ’70s metal. There are two main types of amplifier: solid state and tube (valve), and the settings you need will depend on which type you’re using.

If you have a solid state amp (most reading this probably will have this type), then you’ll want to start with your gain setting on around 7 for most songs. This will give you plenty of distortion and sustain, but should prevent it from becoming too heavy. If you have a tube amp then you’ll need to crank it very high to achieve the right level of distortion, especially if your amp has a lot of headroom.

The other option is to use a pedal for the gain instead of your amplifier. In this case, you can use a distortion, or possibly overdrive depending on the type of pedal, run through a clean amp. Again, you’ll need to set the drive setting on the pedal on around 7 to start with and work from there.

EQ/ Tone (Bass, Mids, Treble)

Some amplifiers have separate bass, mids and treble controls and others have a single EQ/ tone control to help shape how bright and full the guitar sounds. Tony Iommi’s tone in Black Sabbath is full but still has a lot of clarity. For the most part, you’ll need fairly balanced EQ settings.

The bass control adjusts how full the tone sounds by affecting the low-end frequencies. It’s a good idea to start with this on 5 for most songs and work from there. You should avoid it being too high to prevent the tone from sounding loose and muffled, but you need it high enough to ensure it sounds full.

The mids control is very important for the electric guitar as this instrument is primarily responsible for this EQ range in the band. Start with this on 6 and if the tone sounds thin, turn it up more, whereas if it sounds like it’s too dominating in the mix then you should turn it down.

The treble control adjusts the high-end frequencies and consequently, how bright and clear the tone is. Tony Iommi’s tone wasn’t muffled, and a mid-high treble setting will help you to achieve this. Start with this on 6-7 and work from here. If the tone interferes with the vocalist too much and sounds too harsh you can turn it down, but if you’re struggling to get some clarity then it may need to be higher.

It’s important to remember that different amplifiers have different EQ balances, so more or less treble/ bass/ mids may be needed for your rig. Also, the guitar’s natural tone will have a big impact too. If you’re using single coil pickups then you’ll likely need more bass and mids compared to if you’re using humbucker pickups where you may need more treble instead.

Some amps also have other controls such as presence and contour. Check out my complete guide to amplifier controls to learn how to adjust these controls and many more to get the best settings possible.

Make sure you also check out the brand-specific amp controls guide which is relevant to you, to get the most from your rig:

Effects

A treble booster is a good pedal to use if you’re going for Iommi’s tone and want to kick it up a notch for solos. Iommi also used a wah pedal in the earlier Black Sabbath days on songs such as “Black Sabbath”, “The Wizard” and “Electric Funeral”.

Other pedals that you may find useful are a boost/ overdrive/ distortion pedal for solos, or just some kind of gain pedal if you’re running through a clean amplifier to give you enough saturation. A compressor pedal may also be helpful to smooth out the tone and give you more sustain.

So we’ve been through basics, let’s move onto to some of Black Sabbath’s most popular songs. This section is designed to give you a starting point for each song but it does not contain the exact settings used by Iommi. These settings should help you get close, but they will likely need to be tweaked to suit your rig. The next section in this article will take you through some fixes if things don’t sound spot on with the examples below.

Paranoid Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 5
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 6

Iron Man Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 5
  • Treble 5

Black Sabbath Amp Settings

  • Gain: 6
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 6

War Pigs Amp Settings

  • Gain: 7
  • Bass: 7
  • Mids: 6
  • Treble: 5

Children of the Grave Amp Settings

  • Gain: 8
  • Bass: 6
  • Mids: 7
  • Treble: 4

I’ve also made an article with example amp settings for over 40 popular guitar songs here to help you sound more like your favourite players.

Common Issues

If you’ve dialled in the amp settings in the examples above for a particular song and things sound a little off, there’s no need to worry. In this section I’ll list some common problems and how to go about fixing them. With each example, there are multiple fixes listed, however it’s best to try each of them individually in the order listed. Don’t try and adjust all the settings at the same time or it’ll make it hard for you to identify why it doesn’t sound right yet.

Muffled Tone

  • Make sure you are using the bridge pickup and that the guitar’s volume and tone controls are on full
  • Decrease the bass
  • Increase the treble
  • Decrease the gain

Weak and Thin Tone (especially noticeable when palm muting)

  • Increase the mids
  • Increase the bass
  • Increase the gain

Lack of Sustain

  • Increase the gain
  • Increase the bass
  • Use a compressor pedal

Not Enough Gain (even when using maximum amp settings)

  • Ensure you are using the bridge pickup and have the guitar’s tone/ volume controls on maximum
  • Increase the mids
  • Increase the bass
  • Use a distortion/ overdrive/ boost pedal

Frequently Asked Questions

What amps did Black Sabbath use?

Black Sabbath’s guitarist Tony Iommi used a modified Laney LA100 BL amplifier for much of his career.

What guitars did Tony Iommi use?

Tony Iommi of Black Sabbath primarily used a Gibson SG, but was also seen playing a Fender Stratocaster at times.

Here are some more articles you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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